By Vishal Gulati
Shimla, Oct 11 (IANS): Hundreds of goats and sheep in Himachal Pradesh are expected to get a repreive after Diwali with the successful enforcing of a high court ban on their sacrifice for religious purposes.
This was evident from the centuries-old Kullu Dussehra that fell immediately after the ban was imposed when the local authorities managed to convince the Kardar Sangh, which comprises representatives of the deities, to forgo the practice to appease the gods.
"No animal sacrifice was carried out on the last of the Kullu Dussehra (Oct 9). This happened for the first time in over 350 years. In fact, the symbolic sacrifice ritual was performed by breaking a coconut," Deputy Commissioner Rakesh Kanwar told IANS.
He said since sacrificing of animals was followed for decades and it was a sensitive issue, the government did its best by educating the people to do away with it.
According to tradition, the sacrifice of a buffalo, a male lamb, a fish, a crab and a chicken is an important ritual on the concluding day of Kullu Dussehra, which begins in Kullu town after it ends in the rest of the country.
Animal rights activists believe the Kardar Sangh's decision to shun the sacrificial practice will also be followed religiously during Buddhi Diwali (or dark Diwali), a major festival celebrated in some pockets in the state, and other occasions.
Buddhi Diwali celebrations begin on the first 'amavasya' (moonless night of the dark fortnight of a lunar month), almost a month after the rest of the country celebrates the festival of lights.
Buddhi Diwali is marked by merrymaking, singing folksongs and, till now, invoking gods by slaughtering animals amid the beating of drums and blowing of trumpets.
It's mainly celebrated in Kullu district's Ani and Nirmand areas, Shillai, Sangrah and Rajgarh areas in Sirmaur district, and Shimla district's Chopal area.
Almost every villager who rears livestock - mainly a goat - throughout the year, takes the animal to a nearby temple where the sacrificial ceremony is performed on the first night of the festival.
The severed head, as per tradition, is offered to the gods and deities and the animal's body is taken home for the meat to be cooked, which is shared by the villagers and relatives.
Hundreds of goats and sheep are sacrificed to mark the festival.
Octogenarian Ramesh Chand, a villager in the Ani area of Kullu, said: "We have been following the practice of animal sacrifice during Buddhi Diwali for centuries."
Jagat Singh Negi, a former legislator who is based in Sirmaur's Shillai tehsil, said the slaughtering of livestock is also carried out on a large scale in the area during mid-January.
"Since the high court has banned the sacrifice of animals in temples, we are free to sacrifice them at our houses," he said.
Negi said the feast prepared from the slaughtered animals is served among the entire community. "Even the leftover meat is stored for consumption during the harsh winter."
Locals say animal sacrifice is routinely carried out in homes throughout the year - be it a happy occasion or to ward off evil.
Meanwhile, goddess Hadimba, the prominent deity of Mandi district's Seraj valley, is the first among 250 prominent gods and goddesses in the state to support last month's high court judgment.
Hadimba has another prominent temple in the Manali tourist resort.
Legislator Maheshwar Singh from Kullu, who is also the chief representative of Lord Raghunath, the Kullu Valley's chief deity, told IANS it was unanimously decided to shun the practice of animal slaughter during Kullu Dussehra.
"But we will continue to fight to retain our centuries-old traditions and customs (of sacrifice). For now, we are bound by the high court order," he added.
A day before the culmination of Kullu Dussehra, the Supreme Court, on a petition of Maheshwar Singh and others, refused to vacate or suspend the high court order banning animal sacrifice.